JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Gunn Yang has earned a spot in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He’s also secured a likely invitation to next year’s Masters.
The San Diego State sophomore is also one half of Sunday morning’s U.S. Amateur championship match with Corey Conners after knocking off Frederick Wedel in 19 holes on Saturday.
The one thing he doesn’t have? A spot in the Aztecs’ first lineup when the fall collegiate season begins at the Southwestern Intercollegiate on Sept. 8.
Coach Ryan Donovan will make the unlikely U.S. Amateur finalist qualify for the spot. Players earn two spots, with three players chosen by Donovan.
“He believes in the process,” Yang said. “He believes in the number. And he also looks at the summer results. I think that might help me.”
Donovan is en route to Atlanta to watch the final – with a few new shirts for Yang in tow – and told his player that he wouldn’t come out before Sunday as motivation.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I thought he was going to be in the final of the U.S. Amateur,” said Donovan, who starting at 5 a.m. Pacific kept track of Saturday’s match via text messages from Wedel’s coach at Pepperdine, Michael Beard.
“But I am incredibly proud of the way he has handled himself this week.”
For the 776th-ranked amateur in the world, Saturday morning was just another chapter in a storybook week for Yang, as the native of Korea used a 4-foot birdie at the par-4 10th hole to secure a spot in the finale.
“I know I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about it, but I knew if I made the putt, I was getting into the Masters and the final,” said Yang.
The 20-year-old nearly threw that all away with a bold, but ultimately costly decision on the 18th hole.
After watching Wedel miss a 2-footer for par on the 17th green – after somehow watching Wedel’s ball settle on top of the wall in front of the green and using a 58-degree to scare the cup – that gave Yang a 1-up lead, it was full throttle for both players on the 18th tee, with both pushing driver into a fairway bunker on the right.
Saying all week that he is committed to being an aggressive player, Yang decided to go for the green from 215 yards out, with the ball slightly down in the sand. His caddie, Richard Grice, tried to convince him to lay up and put the pressure on Wedel to have to get after the green, but Yang stuck to his week-long strategy.
“I’d take the same club if I had to do it over again,” said Yang.
Wedel didn’t let that dissuade him, looking at 205 yards from an uphill lie in the bunker, the Pepperdine junior hit an incredible 5-iron over the water and to about 10 feet past the hole.
“I hit it perfectly,” Wedel said, mustering a half-smile despite the loss.
Now knotted up, the match went to sudden death on the par-4 10th, a 443-yard hole that needs a bit of strategy. Wedel used fairway wood and left himself 168 yards to the pin. Keeping his pedal to the metal, Yang bombed driver down the middle of the fairway, leaving himself 114 yards – one yard away from where his drive on the hole in regulation.
With 8-iron, Wedel’s approach hung left and settled about 30 feet from the hole on the fringe. With a 58-degree wedge, Yang stuffed it in tight. After sending his birdie attempt 8 feet past the hole, Wedel did apply some pressure by making his par putt.
But after about six minutes of waiting to hit his putt, Yang drained it and let out a yell that could be heard around the course.
“He’s a very intense player,” said Grice.
Grice will now benefit from Yang’s big week, as the two agreed at the outset of the week that instead of payment, Grice would get the opportunity to caddie for Yang should he get to the Masters.
And while Grice has played at Augusta National and stayed in the Eisenhower Cabin, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wear the patented white jumpsuit that caddies wear at the storied golf club.
“It’s going to be really special for me to have a personal relationship with one of the players, that’s something I’ve never had,” said Grice.
Staying with a host family, Yang has advanced with the support of local fans, only able to trade text messages and phone calls with his mom and dad back in Korea.
Yang also noticed online last night that a pair of Korean news outlets had written stories about his improbable run through the field of 312 players.
“They’re not really interested in American golf,” Yang explained. “I am a nameless golfer in Korea.
“Some people know me now. I exist in this world.”